A Guide to Breaking a Lease In Wisconsin

You can break a lease in Wisconsin without penalties in some special circumstances.
Written by Talullah Blanco
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Breaking a lease in
is a legally protected right under special circumstances such as facing landlord harassment or your unit being uninhabitable. If you want to break your lease without penalties, you’ll need to understand Wisconsin’s statutes.
When you sign a lease you are agreeing to pay rent on a property for a specified period but sometimes things change. If you're renting in Wisconsin and you need to break your lease, you’ve got options.
Whether your income has changed, you are dealing with roommate issues, or just need a change of scenery, here to help you navigate breaking your lease is
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Wisconsin law doesn’t guarantee a renter’s right to break a lease early without penalties. However, there are a few exceptions to where tenants can legally terminate early. Here are the circumstances where early termination does apply:
  • Tenants starting active military duty in the armed forces, commissioned corps of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commission corps of the Public Health Service, and the National Guard, are protected under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. 
  • Your landlord harasses you, violates your privacy rights, or constructively evicts you by changing the locks.
  • Tenants whose landlord has violated a condition of their lease agreement like illegally raising rent during the fixed term period.
  • The tenant’s unit does not meet habitable standards set in Wisconsin’s health and safety codes.
  • Tenants experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
If you aren’t in a dangerous situation or your landlord has not violated a condition of your lease, check your rental agreement for clauses violating your rights as a tenant. Leases that allow a landlord to take certain actions such as raising the rent or decreasing services because a tenant has contacted an entity for law enforcement services, health services, or safety services are void and unenforceable in Wisconsin. Your lease may also have an early termination clause that allows you to break your lease without penalties under special circumstances other than those provided above.

What are the penalties for breaking a lease in Wisconsin?

If you are able to prove you are in one of the circumstances where early termination does apply, you can terminate your lease without any additional expenses or repercussions. But if you are terminating your lease for any other reason, you could face hefty penalty fees, continued rent responsibility, and even be sued by your landlord
Wisconsin does not have any set fines for breaking a lease, but here’s what you could be forced to pay:
  • The remaining rent due on the lease until the property is re-rented
  • The amount of rent your landlord loses because you moved out early
  • The cost of advertising the property
  • Up to $10,000 if your landlord sues you in small claims court
Most landlords will set an early termination fee in your lease that is equal to around two months’ rent. If you aren’t able to cut your losses and pay the fee, there are ways you can minimize your financial responsibility when breaking a lease.

How to break a lease without a penalty in Wisconsin

The secret to breaking your lease without a penalty is in
Section 704.29(2)(b)
of Wisconsin’s State Statutes. This section of the law requires landlords to make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant and re-rent the unit rather than just charging you for the remaining rent due on the lease. 
If you live in a bustling city with an active market like Madison, your landlord will find a new tenant in no time and you’ll only have to pay for the amount of time your unit is vacant. 
Instead of relying on your landlord to quickly find a tenant, here’s how you can set yourself up for a penalty-free lease break:
  • Let your landlord know of your departure well in advance. Depending on your lease terms, you’re legally required to provide your landlord with a written notice 5 or 28 days in advance in Wisconsin. But providing your landlord with even further notice will give them ample time to find a new tenant. 
  • Review your lease. Checking the terms and conditions of your lease for provisions outlining early termination can help ease potential losses.
  • Find a replacement tenant or subletter. If you can find a tenant with comparable income and credit score to move in after you that is a great way to avoid empty unit fees.
  • Negotiate. From renting the unit at a higher rate to a more competitive leasing schedule, your early termination could actually benefit your landlord. You just need to tell them how!

How to save on renters insurance in Wisconsin

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Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is not a legally approved reason to break your lease in Wisconsin. However, depending on your landlord, lease agreement, and your circumstance, you may be able to break your lease without facing penalties.
Not always. If you can pay all of the associated costs that come with breaking your lease agreement, such as termination fees and ongoing rent, your credit score should not drop.
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